#BlackLivesMatter, and Black Health Matters, too: Reproductive Justice

by Anna Katz, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at Duke University

This November, I had the privilege of attending the first annual Black Health Matters Conference at Harvard University.  Given my work as a NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Leader and love for all things sexual health, I was particularly looking forward to Saturday’s panel Who and How: Sexual Health Activism for Our Most Underserved Communities.  As I ponder what shape my budding career might take, I am always thrilled to hear the varying ways activists approach this critical work.  With panelists working in academic, government, and the nonprofit sector, the event promised to offer several unique perspectives on sexual and reproductive health.

But perhaps most exciting was the opportunity to attend a reproductive health event that centered and amplified the voices of four Black women leaders in the sexual health field.  Mainstream reproductive rights activism historically sidelined women of color, trans women, poor women—virtually anyone who didn’t reflect middle- and upper-class white leadership.  Frustrated with this marginalization, a group of Black women created Repro Justice Repeal Hyde Art Projecttheir own movement, coining the term “reproductive justice” in 1994.  Now a national leader in reproductive justice, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.”  To ensure that these rights are universally recognized, they believe, we must analyze power systems, address intersecting oppressions, center the most marginalized, and build coalitions across issues and identities.

In doing this work, we must first contextualize sexual and reproductive health activism within a history of reproductive oppression.  Our nation has a broad and shameful history of sexual and reproductive coercion of Black folks and other communities of color, contributing to an abiding distrust of health practitioners and organizations like Planned Parenthood.  From the forced reproduction of enslaved African and African American women to the coercive sterilizations of the American Eugenics Movement, from J. Marion Sim’s surgical experimentation on enslaved women to the non-consensual extraction of Henrietta Lacks’ cervical cells, from contraceptive pill trials on Puerto Rican women to the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study,” folks of color have continuously been stripped of bodily autonomy, often for the purpose of “advancing” reproductive science.  The generational trauma of such violating practices cannot be minimized; as activists, we must acknowledge our nation’s ugly histories and recognize where the mainstream reproductive rights movement has failed the most vulnerable.  The panelists echoed SisterSong’s push for centering those who have been marginalized and emphasized that paying lip service to historically subjugated groups is not enough. “Activism is a doing, not a saying,” explained panelist Jill Smith, HIV/STI Project Manager at the Maryland Department of Health.

I am proud to be working with NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, an organization that is committed to serving all North Carolinians and prioritizing those disproportionately impacted by harmful policies.  In an attempt to echo this commitment on Duke’s campus, I am building partnerships with groups that tend to be excluded from reproductive health conversations.  I am thrilled to be kicking off next semester with a sexual and reproductive health trivia night in collaboration with The Bridge, an online community for Black and Latina women.  Through such coalition-building, perhaps we can build an on-campus reproductive justice movement that is truly inclusive and intersectional.

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Reproductive rights activism: kicking the semester off at UNC Asheville!

by Kelli Early, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at UNC Asheville

Kelli Sept blogThe Fall semester has started at UNC Asheville, and with it comes all the possibilities for my second year as a NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Campus Organizer.  I was unable to hold any formal events for September due to sickness and attending the Advocates for Youth Urban Retreat; however, Urban Retreat gave me so much great information that I want to utilize through trainings on campus!  For example, one session was on “Trauma Informed Care” which I think would be amazing to do at UNC Asheville where so many students are organizing around racial/economic inequity that can retraumatize people who are experiencing these oppressions.  Additionally, there was a great “Reproductive Justice 101” that clearly defined the differences between reproductive justice, rights, and health work and how those differences should affect organizing strategies.  Furthermore, I got to meet Becki, the UNCW Campus Organizer for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, and she gave me great ideas for the semester, including showing the documentary No Más BebésFor the “Be Bold End Hyde” campaign, I did a closed screening of Care in Chaos for the UNCA Planned Parenthood Generation Action organization, which had 7 people attend.  I facilitated a discussion about the relationship between clinics and police in Charlotte and got the group to brainstorm some creative resistance to mass protests outside of clinics, since our Asheville Planned Parenthood clinic also experiences protests.  For the September 28th International Safe Abortion Day, I tabled outside of our cafeteria to give information on the limited access to abortion worldwide and got over 40 petition signatures for the “Be Bold, End Hyde” campaign.

At the beginning of the semester, I met with several student organizations, UNCA Out and Planned Parenthood Generation Action, to discuss the current climate of student organizing on campus.  From these meetings, I learned that UNCA has so many student organizations outside of UNCA Out that focus on queer/LGBTQIA+ issues and that bringing together the issues of reproductive rights and queer liberation were highly sought after.  Thus, for October, I’ll be working with the UNCA Out and the Trans Student Union to hold an abortion speakout that focuses on queer/People of Color stories that are on my campus and community!

Our student leader at Davidson College supports International Safe Abortion Day!

by Kristen Sands, 2017-2018 Campus Leader at Davidson College

Hello from Davidson, North Carolina! My name is Kristen Sands and I am the campus leader for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina here at Davidson College, a liberal arts Davidson ISAD 2017 1college of around 2,000 students. I had an excellent day tabling for NARAL outside of our main academic building on September 28th in honor of International Safe Abortion Day!

For our tabling event, I was able to work with the two fabulous campus representatives for Planned Parenthood Generation Action, Caroline Roddey and Emma Granowsky. We joined forces, combined swag and informational pamphlets, and prepped with coffee and doughnut munchkins to offer students on their way to class! We were very grateful to have the support of a number of other pro-choice student activists who took turns running the table when we had class.

Throughout the day, we received great feedback from students and faculty members who stopped by to chat with us and learn more about reproductive justice. A number of students told us that they didn’t know that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and that understanding the reality of the numbers really made them want to getDavidson ISAD 2017 5 involved in pro-choice activism. Students also really enjoyed the #BustTheMyths handout, with many of them remarking on the statistic that 95 percent of women who have had abortions ultimately feel they have made the right decision. My Planned Parenthood representative friends provided an excellent handout on tough conversations and how to navigate a conversation with someone who is anti-choice, which was popular amongst students as well. Students and faculty members who stopped by our table expressed gratitude that there was visible and open conversation about abortion happening on our campus and an excitement to get involved with our movement. Just hours after we packed up the table for the day, I was happy to see NARAL and 1 in 3 campaign stickers on laptops and water bottles and buttons clipped to backpacks.

Davidson ISAD 2017 4

I was absolutely thrilled by the number of people eager to learn more about reproductive justice and find how they can contribute to the pro-choice movement! Seeing the engagement and enthusiasm of members of the Davidson community regarding abortion rights not only gave me one more reason to love my campus, but also gave me great confidence in the power of my generation to make real change. Thank you NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina for giving me the opportunity to celebrate International Safe Abortion Day at Davidson!Davidson ISAD 2017 2

September Update from NC State University

By Leah Block, 2016-2017 Campus Leader at NC State University

School is in full-swing and so is activism here at NC State, where we’ve already seen many pressing social justice issues arise just 7 weeks into the academic year. I have teamed up with various different student organizations to meet the intersection of human reproductive rights, civil rights, and LGTBQ liberation here on campus. We kicked off this semester with a number of events and campaigns, such as the All* Above All United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action, during which members of SAGE (Students Advocating for Gender Equality) participated in activities to push for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976, disallows Medicaid from covering abortion care; thus preventing low-income people from receiving critical medical attention. During our campus events, we found that many students did not know what the Hyde Amendment is, let alone why it is discriminatory. This is assuring that grassroots reproductive justice activism is not only important, but necessary if the Hyde Amendment is to be repealed.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-57-20-amDuring the Week of Action, students had the chance to participate in activities such as a social media photo-campaign, a “Brickyard Chalking,” and a cross-campus petition collecting event. For the photo campaign, students were photographed holding signs describing why they support access to abortion care.

During the photo campaign, I had many interesting conversations with people about the Hyde Amendment. Students displayed an array of emotions upon learning what the Hyde Amendment is, such as frustration and confusion. In fact, I interacted with a few individuals who identify as “pro-life,” but did not see how the Hyde Amendment could possibly be constitutional given that it disproportionately affects minorities and poor women. I had similar interactions during the petition-collecting event, though the vast majority of interactions were positive.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-58-26-amMy favorite event of this month was the Brickyard Chalking for Choice event, during which members of SAGE and GLBTCA (The GLBT Community Alliance) teamed up to chalk campus with pro-choice and anti-Hyde messages. Students gathered at “The Brickyard,” which is a central point on campus for activism events, well after dark to begin chalking. With pump-up music playing from a portable speaker, students began to spread– or chalk– the message that the Hyde Amendment must go. Participants used the hashtags “BeBoldEndHyde” and “1in3” to highlight that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime, and that the Hyde Amendment is an unnecessary hurdle to necessary abortion services.

September saw many significant events involving violence, such as the police-involved murder of Keith Lamont Scott; the administrative mishandling of a sexual assault case at UNC-Chapel Hill; and the circulation of a student’s racist messages on social media. Across NCSU’s campus, student leaders and activists strained themselves to meet their organizing goals.

screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-11-59-19-amThese students, such as those who organized the die-in at NC State on September 23, were losing sleep and missing meals in order to organize. During challenging times like these, it is imperative that we treat self-care as a top priority. When engaging in any form of activism, individuals are often choosing to risk psychological and even physical harm simply by standing for something. As an example, clinic escorts risk being berated, stalked, or even physically assaulted by simply defending a person’s right to choose an abortion. Needless to say, activists should treat themselves with care and compassion during periods of challenge; looking out for their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. In order to encourage student leaders to take care of themselves this September, SAGE held a self-care night in the Talley Student Union, open to all students. The meeting included a 5-minute guided meditation, chamomile tea, and lots of therapeutic coloring! It was a great way to wrap up the month, and I am excited for what October holds.

September Update from Guilford College

By Bex Hyman, 2016-2017 Campus Leader at Guilford College

img_9722My name is Bex Hyman and I am one of the newest Campus Leaders for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina!

Nuzzled in Greensboro, North Carolina is the small, Quaker, liberal arts school of Guilford College. Guilford College is a home and a community I am honored to have been a part of for three years now.

As well as being a Campus Leader for NARAL Pro-Choice NC, I am also an overly enthusiastic member of the Guilford College Peer Mentor Program, an off centered cross-stitch creator, a lumpy hand built ceramic pot aficionado, wild clay harvester, and struggling cook in the art of zoodles.

As I embark on the adventure that is my senior year of college as a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Sociology double major, I challenge myself to honor and give back to the college that has aided me on a journey to find and explore my passions.

As a Quaker based institution, Guilford College is guided by the seven core values of community, diversity, equality, excellence, integrity, justice and stewardship. As an ode to both myself and to an institution that has helped to craft me into a free thinker, an active member of my community, a speaker and a listener, an advocate and a leader; I accepted the opportunity to become a Campus Leader for NARAL Pro-Choice NC for the 2016-2017 academic year.

A week ago, I was eagerly awaiting the beginning of my first event on campus. A twang of nerves hit me once my table was set up.

“What if I mess this up?”

“What if I don’t actually know what I am talking about?”

“What if I offend somebody?”

Doubts began to fill my mind. I rarely feel nervous in my Guilford College community, but when I am challenged to be an “expert” on a topic, I begin to question my own knowledge. I feel as if I must have all of the answers to even begin to claim that I have a voice worthy enough to share this information.

These doubts were silenced within minutes of talking with students I had collaborated with during my college career. People were excited and enthusiastic about the work I was doing. They asked questions, and I felt as if I could reply with answers of substance. I am by no means an expert, but I also didn’t claim to be. If I didn’t have an answer, I didn’t pretend to. Instead, I found a reference online that would have an informative answer.

 

Honestly, I didn’t really expect people to engage with me very much at all. This was shown by originally printing out enough All* Above All petition sheets for 40 people to sign in support of repealing the Hyde Amendment. Forty people during a Guilford College lunch rush seemed ambitious to me considering the Guilford College student body is around 1,500 people and the questionable lasagna was on the menu for that day.

About two and a half hours later, I had collected 109 signatures, covered every petition sheet front and back, heard stories from numerous women of their experience with Medicaid and/or abortion, handed out plenty of informational flyers and was left wiped out of buttons, brownies, pins, temporary tattoos (a personal favorite), condoms, and nail art stickers.

I walked away from the event feeling accomplished and energized by my college community. While I was not expecting push back from the community, I was not truly expecting to be embraced and celebrated. It became ever more apparent to me that talking about abortion, talking about reproductive justice, and talking about inclusive sex education is upholding and, in my opinion, honoring the Quaker core values that Guilford College prides itself on. The collaboration of NARAL Pro-Choice NC and universities and colleges across the state is helping to break down stigma and open safer spaces for people to share their stories and reach for resources when they need them.

I look forward to continuing my work with NARAL Pro-Choice NC in collaboration with the Guilford College community. With this part of the semester coming to a close, I feel I am better equipped to take on this next half with force. I am eager, engaged and my confidence is growing. I will be writing an op-ed for a local Greensboro Newspaper on the Hyde Amendment, I plan on hosting a movie screening, and making a zine as a statewide resource for students on college campuses.

This internship is pushing me outside of my comfort zone, pushing me to interact with new people, and pushing me to grow. This is hands on learning at its finest and this is, truly, invigorating.

Updates on campus organizing at Guilford College and the mastering of zoodle creation coming at you all year long!

Until next time,

Bex Hyman